This week Frisco resident Lidia Newton experienced a chance encounter with a visitor from the old country.
On Monday Newton, who is of Polish decent, and her husband, Pete, hosted a man by the name of Marek Dittmann, 55, a native of Torun, Poland, who is in the midst of a quest to ride his bicycle around the world. Although he coincidentally arrived Monday night in Frisco — on the eve of the second stage of the USA Pro Challenge ending in neighboring Breckenridge — his chosen mode of transportation is the only comparison to be drawn between Dittmann and the hundreds of competitors participating in this week’s race.
Unlike his two-wheeled brethren set to depart this morning from Breckenridge en route to Steamboat Springs, Dittmann isn’t in it for the glory. Instead, he set out on the lofty journey to experience life, to see the world and how people in different cultures live, to test himself against the unique challenges of being a visitor in a foreign country and to experience the economic disparities of life in big cities compared with surrounding rural areas.
It’s a bold undertaking when considering the distance alone. Since departing from Torun on May 10, his 55th birthday, Dittmann has logged more than 10,000 miles on his bike, riding through Poland, Russia, China, Canada and now the United States. He plans to continue west to California before switching directions south toward Central and South America by way of the Pacific coastline. He will end his South American journey in Argentina and board a plane to Portugal for the final leg home to his native Poland, coming full circle hopefully one year after he left.
Impressive as the journey might seem, it is perhaps outshined by a single detail — Dittmann does not speak the language of many of the countries he has already visited and has yet to visit.
Speaking through Newton, who acted as an interpreter, Dittmann said he is fluent in Polish, German and Russian. But placing himself in situations where verbal communication would be impossible also appears to be one of the things that attracted him to the ride.
And since he departed Poland a little more than three months ago, Dittmann has had his fair share of book-worthy experiences.
When crossing the border into Russia, Dittmann said some sort of snafu took place with his bank back home and he was not able to access funds for his trip. For five days he relied on the kindness of strangers to keep him fed and housed until he located a bank in Russia that agreed to assist him with a wire transfer.
Without Global Positioning System technology Dittmann never would have made it through China, saying how easy it would have been to get lost because of his unfamiliarity with the language.
Dittmann again had an experience worthy of the page when he was pulled over and nearly arrested in New York City for inadvertently riding his bike on an automobile-only bridge.
But where there have been problems there have also been a series of pleasant surprises, none more so than his recent ride through Denver. While on a break to experience the city, Dittmann met with members of the Polish Club of Denver. One of the club’s members happened to be a childhood friend who Dittmann had not seen in 35 years.
“The stories he’s told us are incredible, but reconnecting with a childhood friend in Denver of all places really proves how small the world is,” Newton said.
For more information about Dittmann and his journey thus far, check out his Facebook page.